Epiphany: William Trevor began his adult life as a sculptor and later described his writing as chipping away at a block of marble. Are you a chipper or a builder? In other words do you chip away at a block of writing, or are you more methodical, building up the block brick by brick?
Charles Baxter: Chipper? Builder? I'm neither. When I'm writing, I'm a blindfolded man trying to play tennis.
What was your first publication?
A poem in Poetry Northwest, around 1968.
Five books you are reading or thinking about now?
Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita
Magda Szabó, The Door
Timothy Findley, The Wars
Paula Fox, The Widow's Children
If you had to inhabit a fictional world, what would it be (i.e., the environment of which novel or short story or poem)?
The scene of Delmore Schwartz's poem "Seurat's Sunday Afternoon Along the Seine."
Most interesting day job you've had (from the perspective of a writer)?
Hospital orderly. I once pushed John Berryman in a wheelchair down to physical therapy.
Novels? Short stories? Essays? Which do you prefer to write?
One sentence of advice regarding writing?
You better love what you're doing, or you're fucked.
Your titles: do you grapple with them, or are they epiphanies that come to you in the night?
I often come up with bad titles. My novel Shadow Play was originally called Leavings, which my editor said reminded her of mouse turds. Lately I've been luckier with titles: There's Something I Want You to Do came directly from my mother. It was her favorite phrase.
In a nutshell, what are you working on now?
Recovering from my book tour.
What's an interview question you've never been asked (but wish you had been)?
Charles Baxter is the author of five novels, six books of short stories, most recently There's Something I Want You to Do, and two books of criticism. He teaches at the University of Minnesota and lives in Minneapolis.